apparently no disagreement that Peshawar is the most dangerous city in
Pakistan due to the bomb explosions that it regularly suffers and the
targeted killings and kidnappings which have become its way of life.
In fact, many believe that
Peshawar is the most dangerous city in the world keeping in view the number
of people killed in acts of terrorism since the beginning of the Afghan
conflict in the late 1970s and after its spillover to Pakistan in 2001-2002.
Almost every locality in the city has experienced bomb blast or some other
terrorist attack and act of violence. No place is considered safe as a bomb
could go off anywhere, anytime.
Bombings have taken place
at unlikely locations and at odd times — and there is constant fear that
more such attacks are being planned.
And yet, Peshawar lives on
even though its wounds are deep. Tragedies are etched in the memory of its
residents, but there have been so many tragic occasions that one has lost
count and the pain has become bearable. Patience and forbearance has become
part of the character of most Peshawarites. The strong belief that
everything is from Allah helps to heal the injuries of both soul and body.
The best example of this
remarkable trait was evident on October 10 when an elderly man, frail and
weak, told Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during an event in Peshawar that the
death of his 18 family members in the Qissa Khwani bazaar car-bombing late
last month was Allah’s will. Rather, even in such a dire and tragic
situation, he was heard thanking the Prime Minister in Pashto for taking out
time to offer condolences to him and other bereaved families.
Despite the insecurity and
the ever-present threat of more terrorist attacks, Peshawar continues to
grow at an amazing speed. Its estimated population is 3.4 million and it
could increase further if the displacement from the conflict areas as a
result of the military operations and the violence linked to the activities
of the militants continues.
As the provincial capital,
it naturally offered better job, business and education opportunities and
was able to attract people from every part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the
adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). The city’s expansion
has often been unplanned and haphazard and slums are growing, but the
planned government township projects like Regi Lalma and the private and
military housing colonies have added to the beauty of Greater Peshawar.
The construction activity
in the older Hayatabad town never stops as new phases are added to it
perilously close to the tribal boundary of Khyber Agency. More people now
live outside than in old Peshawar in places that were previously villages
like Tehkal, Pawaka, Spina Waray, Regi, Nasir Bagh, Pishtakhara, etc and
outskirts such as Warsak Road, G T Road, Kohat Road and Jamrud Road.
Often mentioned as the
oldest living city in South Asia and located on the old Silk Route, Peshawar
has survived war and conquest and there is no reason to doubt that it would
survive the high level of violence being inflicted on it almost on a weekly
basis. It has braved both natural and man-made disasters, ranging from
earthquakes to floods and invasions to bombings, and has become tough and
resilient after every such experience.
Mughal emperor Babur and
others described it as the “city of flowers” even though it is nowadays
known more as an overcrowded and dusty city in need of a facelift and peace.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led provincial government that came into being
after the May 2013 general election has promised to restore its glory by
making it “clean and green” and has sanctioned significant funds for
development projects after having been ignored by the previous coalition
government of Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People’s Party
(PPP) during its five-year term, but the first priority would have to be
making Peshawar a more peaceful place.
Obviously, this cannot
happen unless the militants are defeated or co-opted through some peace
As the seat of the fabled
Gandhara civilisation, Peshawar has had a glorious past and many tourist
attractions. Located not far from the mouth of the famous Khyber Pass
linking Afghanistan with Pakistan, it was a major tourist destination and
part of the ‘hippy’ trail in peacetimes. Its proximity to the gun-making
Darra Adamkhel town and the tribal territories of Khyber Agency and Mohmand
Agency added to its tourism potential and strategic importance when there
was peace, but this became a disadvantage and contributed to its
vulnerability as the conflict engulfed these tribal regions and militants of
different persuasions found sanctuaries there.
In recent years, Peshawar
became such an insecure and risky place that people from Swat and other
conflict zones started saying that they felt safer in their areas than in
the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Despite risky living in an
insecure and bruised Peshawar, its residents refuse to leave their beloved
city. Prominent businessman Mohsin Aziz, a former minister and presently the
head of the Board of Investment in the province, recalled that at times in
recent years he and his family considered moving to Islamabad or some other
relatively peaceful city outside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but the love of
Peshawar didn’t allow them to leave the city of their birth. Some
businessmen did leave at the peak of the terrorist attacks in Peshawar in
2009, but they did so reluctantly and would like to come back. Many other
known Peshawar notables refused to leave even when it was dangerous living
in the city.
This writer too has had
opportunities to move out of Peshawar to Islamabad during the most violent
periods in recent years, but the heart refused to listen to the mind which
advocated shifting to a relatively safer place. One even thought of moving
back to the village in Peshawar. However, the pull of Peshawar was strong
and overpowering and there was no way one could say goodbye to the city
despite all the insecurities that its inhabitants feel all the time.
Such are the charms of
this ancient city that poets still compose poetry in praise of Peshawar and
singers becomes popular by singing songs that highlight the pain and
sufferings of the city.
There is a saying
that every child is an artist. The problem is remaining artist as we age and
become conscious of society and its adages. We are born devoid of this
self-conscious robe. In his recent exhibition at Canvas Gallery, QuddusMirza
uses child-like strokes and gestures as a device, to perhaps revisit the
ABCs and shed the robe, even if momentarily. It is possibly in this state of
mind that one can truly be honest with ones work and most importantly with
Caravaggio’s “Judith Beheading Holofernes” for “Caravaggio in
Karachi”. He sensibly chooses the patches he wishes to disclose as similar
and leaves the white in the background which makes the red feel redder and
the violence more violent, just as perhaps a scream would in tranquility.
Caravaggio painted the
exact moment in which Holofernes is beheaded. His eyes have yet not grown
dim in death, and he looks up at his murderer full of mortal fear, his mouth
wrenched open in a scream and his head half severed from his body. While
Judith embodies determination and disgust and keeps as great a distance from
her victim as possible. He pursued to capture the moment of shock and
horror. Caravaggio, who realised the inherent contradictions in life,
reversed the meaning of the severed head being holy, and the act of cutting
it off as being unholy. He reverses the religious expectations, and
glorifies the duality of the murderer/martyr that was Judith and victim/
perpetrator that was Holofernes.
Perhaps it is the contrast
and combination between the ghastly and the gorgeous, the observed and the
unobserved, tradition and novelty that account for the sublimity embodied by
this work which entices the artist to use it as an allegory. Mirza applies
this disharmony in ‘Caravaggio in Karachi’. While a part of us cringes
to behold this gory episode, our darker sides do not want to turn away.
Perhaps we are envious of
Judith, who is committing a sin in the guise of righteousness. Although most
of us have never decapitated a person, however, on occasion, we might have
entertained a similar vehement and violent fantasy? The depiction of the
house on fire at the foot of the canvas warrants such fantasies.
In ‘Karachi in
Caravaggio” could those be the hands of Judith handing over the head of
Holofernes to her maid or an expression of anger? As one observes the
audience in the background, one becomes a part of the audience witnessing
the serving of a head on a platter, which might as well be a symbol
depicting the state of Karachi.
However, the re-creation
of this story with childlike gestures and strokes adds a sardonic layer of
meaning as children’s drawings are unadulterated with concerns of judgment
and reception. On a similar note his works are precise and possess a
childlike quality — an honesty.
One can never really be
sure why the artist made the visuals, but how one interprets them can often
be a revelation of sorts. In ‘Soul and Other Flying Objects’ one notice
a red woman at the foot of the canvas surrounded by what might be steps for
some, graves for others or coffins for those who notices the small peeping
windows on the green boxes. The red creature hovering over them exudes an
ominous expression, but one can never be too sure. With its red framework,
one wonders if this ‘soul’ belongs to the red woman.
While the artist might
have made all these with meanings of his own, one enters the equation only
to face the goriness of one’s own imagination — one which we prefer not
to disclose and deny existence to.
The diptych ‘MS World’
communicates a sense of desensitisation towards death. The shadows give off
a sense of cold absence similar to the whizzing vehicles which lack details
of passengers. One is left wondering if the artist moves from the basic to
the more sophisticated or is it the other way round? Or do these dichotomies
coexist in practice as they do in society.
This is a body of work
which has a life of its own. It discourses, negotiates and challenges. It is
open to judgment and before you know it, leaves you judging yourself.
The show continues till
October 20, 2013.
variations in different countries, we’re finally being presented with
Pakistan Idol. Like its counterparts in other countries, Pakistan Idol has
been modelled on American Idol and franchised to Geo by Freemantle Media
The production team of the
show exhibit the same excitement, passion and talent in the initial
auditions that we have seen on other variants of the show. The singers
coming into the arena bring in that very diversity that defines our country.
“We’ve had people singing folk, classical and then of course mainstream
pop,” says Qudsia Karim, media incharge for Pakistan Idol.
In a competition looking
for a Pakistani idol, the personality of the person can be important — as
we’ve all heard the infamous Simon Cowell tell contestants that they might
have a great voice but not the looks or personality to win.
At the heart of it all
lies the person’s ability to sing — “talent is more important,” says
Karim when describing the show’s criteria.
Since it is a franchised
show, the format and the basic evaluation criteria remains the same. A
contestant must be between 15–30 years of age and must be able to sing. A
panel of selected judges, whose names Pakistan Idol has not yet released,
travels from cit to city hunting for talent, while through various stages,
the contestants are shortlisted and the audiences finally see a few selected
and somewhat groomed individuals from a pool of thousands.
Over the past few years,
the Pakistani television viewers have seen their share of such shows. While
most have been joint-ventures with India, some have been produced locally
— albeit not at such a large scale.
We’ve sat day in and day
out in front of our television sets to watch the progress of the
contestants, amidst heated debates on who should have won the show, and at
times, even picked up our cell phones to vote.
Thus, they attract a large
audience making television an interactive medium.
One aspect that needs to
be explored is the contribution these shows have made to the music industry
Farrukh Bashir, an eminent
producer of music shows on television, points out a side to reality singing
shows such as Pakistan Idol not discussed often. He says the trend is
“very good and encouraging but no one from these shows has really made a
name for themselves.”
The fact is that most of
the contestants from these shows simply seem to disappear without a trace of
fame their talent was supposed to bring them. The problem Bashir says is
that “in these shows they only learn to imitate a particular singer and
don’t develop their own style. If you give them new compositions they
cannot sing them.”
renowned ghazal singer, Tina
Sani, applauds the concept, saying “New singers don’t have new songs and
,therefore, they begin by imitating. If you can sing like Lata, you
definitely have talent — and that is the biggest contribution such shows
make to the music industry.”
Reminiscing about the
1980s, Sani says, there were a number of small shows that would help
introduce new singers to the industry. “Some well-known singers of today
such as Naeem Abbas Rufi came out of these shows,” she says.
Bashir also talks about
the shows like Bihkre Moti which “were different and the scale was much
smaller. Now people understand the concept of reality shows and there’s a
lot more hype that goes on before them.”
However, both agree there
is an acute lack of training and grooming of singers in Pakistan. It is
because of this that most singers cannot make it to the mainstream, since
they have not developed an understanding of music.
“In India, people are
trained in schools and colleges, however, we don’t have that trend here,
unless you belong to a musical gharana. They have developed an understanding
of leh, sur and taal,” says Bashir.
Sani seconds him by giving
the exmaple of Sunidhi Chauhan in India, who won a competition at age 14.
“It’s not that we don’t have talent but there they have more
Thus, Pakistan Idol is one
step towards bridging this gap between talent and opportunity. However, the
burden to groom themselves, develop a proper understanding of music and
transgress beyond the show lies with the individual.
One of the highest
honours that can be bestowed upon a person is the issuance of a postage
stamp in her or his name. Recently Pakistan Post issued a postage stamp on
the birth anniversary of Noor Jehan to indemnify the great contribution she
made to music/ performing arts in the subcontinent.
One of the most
outstanding designers of the country, and the foremost where postage stamps
are concerned, Adil Salahuddin, was entrusted with the task of doing so. It
appears from his efforts that he shared fully with so many other music
lovers the admiration for the art and person of Noor Jehan.
Imagine finding one’s
name and image on the place otherwise meant for founding fathers and heads
of states. Due to the importance of the honour, nearly all the leading
artists of the country over the years have been requested to design stamps.
A. R.Chughtai, Bashir Mirza,
Zahoorul Akhlaq, Saeed Akhter, Askari Mian Irani, Talat Dabir Ahmed, Jimmy
Engineer, Mahmoodul Hasan Jaffery to name but a few have participated in the
visual homage of one artist to
The only vocalist
/musician to be honoured in such a way before Noor Jehan is Nusrat Fateh Ali
Khan and that stamp too was designed by Adil Salahuddin. The proposal of
making a series of stamps on musicians was sent to the higher authorities
and in the first batch with Noor Jehan were Ustads Salamat Ali Khan, Roshan
Ara Begum and Mehdi Hasan. But approval was received for Noor Jehan’s
The stamp is beautifully
designed with the motif of music forming the greater part of the pattern.
In India, if an example
needed to be cited, nearly all their leading musicians/vocalists have had
stamps issued in their names. One ruefully misses Noor Jehan’s presence
these days not only because the fountain of music that seemed perennial once
has stopped to flow but also the dominance of her personality has not really
been replaced by anyone else. For the people who are coming of age now, it
is difficult to imagine the overpowering presence of Noor Jehan. She cast
her luminous shadow over an uneven landscape that was not always lit up but
had many dark nooks and corners to conceal many a wart.
Noor Jehan in her blazing
glory disdainfully looked at those who did not have the moral courage to
display or confess to their closet existence. She had the courage to take
anyone on for she had nothing to hide.
Many artistes, painters,
poets and musicians before her and even after her may have had the talent to
shine very brightly in their own areas of excellence but the overarching
presence of Noor Jehan is so sorely missed. She was amazing because despite
the courage she displayed she was a woman within, wearing her heart on the
sleeve and a mother willing to sacrifice all for the comfort of her
Like all children, her
children too took this over-indulgence for granted and grew up in the
absolute certainty of a single parent’s total commitment to her progeny.
Where popular music is
concerned, few have been her equal as she took the popular expression of
vocal music to the heights generally associated with classical forms. Though
she sang popular numbers, few could fault her for lowering of quality or
inadequacy of expression which is not always the first criteria to be met in
The popular expression in
her age was that of film music; she took up the challenge and was one of the
founders of his new genre of music as it flourishes in the coming decades.
Music was sung on the set and filmed with acting sequences. She rode like a
colossus through the transition of live recording and shooting to playback
in the 1940s, and later as she herself faded out as an actress took fully to
rendering her voice to the heroines who were much younger to her.
Despite a shrinking film
world and a society that was inimical to the performing artiste, especially
if it happened to be a woman, she had no equal all those years.
Many were confounded when
she opted for Pakistan when it gained independence in 1947. She was at the
apex of her career and had a free run in what was soon to become the second
largest industry of the world. The film producers, in particular the
composers, ate out of her hand and when she decided to migrate to Pakistan
those unbelievable beings even wept physically at their loss.
She was merely a singer
but when the 1965 war broke out she sang a few numbers which have become
landmarks in music. So may people in this sanctimonious society just
dismissed her merely as an entertainer but with her songs in the war she not
only inspired the soldiers fighting on the front but created a parallel
emotional front which created an environment as if the Pakistani nation was
taking part in a victory march.
Many analysts are of the
view that our army may have defaulted on strategy and command and not on
valour, but Noor Jehan did not default on any count. She was the first and
foremost in that battle with her non soldier like armoury.
She satisfied her critics
who only see music and the arts meeting a purpose and not merely as a
fulfillment to a higher ideal and thus emerged as the foremost heroin in
national life. She like an arties able explored all sides of war. If there
was valour and triumph on one side, on the other was the immense cost
particularly in terms of lives lost. The war is not only about pride, pomp
and glory but also about mothers losing their sons, the flower of the youth
being mowed down on the battlefields of Kashmir and Punjab. As Pakistan
continues to fight all kinds of wars, more inside its frontiers than on it,
the twin message of Noor Jehan should be heard loud and clear all across the
political and national horizon.
Adil Salahuddin is a
recipient of Sitar-e -Imtaiz, President’s Medal for the Pride of
Performance and is also a Fellow of the National College of Arts. One hopes
that the remaining names also receive the approval of the competent
authority. And then many more connected to the field of music be also
honoured in a similar way. One cannot but agree with the noble sentiments of